International news in brief

Leaks claim British troops 'not up to Afghanistan task'

Britain's military operations in Afghanistan have been harshly criticised by the country's president, Hamid Karzai, local officials and the American commander of Nato troops, according to leaked diplomatic papers.

The secret US embassy cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, report conversations in which Mr Karzai said that Britain was "not up to the task" of securing the southern province of Helmand and suggested the job would be better given to the US.

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US general Dan McNeill, who led Nato forces in Afghanistan in 2007-8, was "dismayed" by a British effort which "made a mess of things" in Helmand.

Helmand governor Gulab Mangal is said to have criticised British troops for failing to get out of their bases and engage with locals.

The cables are the latest of 250,000 documents obtained by WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, yesterday lost a legal bid to overturn a Swedish court order demanding his arrest for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The 39-year-old Australian is believed to be in hiding in England as the latest leaks on his whistle-blowing website fuel global uproar.

AN Israeli firefighter plane tries to extinguish a blaze in the Carmel Forest, near Haifa. At least 40 people have been killed by the inferno.

Aretha Franklin said her surgery has been "highly successful" and thanked well-wishers for their prayers.

She said: "God is still in control. I had superb doctors and nurses whom were blessed by the prayers of the city and the country."

She did not say what the surgery was.

The military in Ivory Coast has sealed borders and cut international media as tensions rise over the outcome of the presidential election run-off.

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It comes after the Constitutional Court rejected a declaration that opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara had won the vote.

Bristol Palin, the daughter of possible US presidential candidate Sarah Palin, has hit back against an "old canard" TV host who dubbed her the "worst person in the world".

Ms Palin was responding to remarks from Keith Olbermann.

Olbermann gave her the title on his show, casting her as a hypocrite for appearing in a public service announcement promoting safe sex and abstinence.

Ms Palin was an unmarried teenager when she had her son, Tripp.

Bing Crosby's widow, Kathryn Crosby, is recovering after being flown to hospital with major injuries following a deadly traffic crash in the Sierra Nevada.

Kathryn Crosby, 77, was hurt and her husband, Maurice William Sullivan, 85, was killed in the November 4 single-vehicle wreck in California.

Alaska: The owner of an Anchorage barber shop did not let an SUV crashing through the front of his store cause a bad hair day for a client, finishing the cut with the vehicle still inside.

Cuba: The Supreme Court has begun reviewing the death sentence of a Salvadoran man convicted for a series of hotel bombs in 1997.

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Government website Cuba-debate said the review of Ernesto Cruz Leon's sentence began yesterday.